Starring: Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Andy Samberg, Bill Wiff, Emily Hampshire, Natalie Morales, Mary Holland, Daryl J. Johnson, and Nancy Lenehan
Director: Jake Johnson
Self Reliance is a comedy “thriller” (kind of) that can be almost exclusively attributed to Jake Johnson as writer, director, producer, and lead actor. When he isn’t carrying the film as the hilariously hapless protagonist, the chemistry between him and the perfectly cast Anna Kendrick is quite heart-warming. It’s what you might expect from the likes of a Lonely Island production, with its absurdist humor that will either endear or disenchant its audience (myself being the former). Ultimately, its message is quite lovely, with our need for human connection and the seeming difficulty inherent in achieving it.
Self Reliance is entertaining, but far tamer than I expected. Jake Johnson’s directorial debut puts forward an intriguing concept that promises more thrills than it can deliver, never going far enough with its premise or pushing it to the level of absurdity that would have made it more engaging. Anna Kendrick and Johnson have great chemistry, and I found their relationship to be the most interesting part of the story, so since the film shies away from anything too excessive, I would have preferred it if it leaned into the quirky rom-com vibe.
Aside from an ending that I wish had more…uh…something, Self Reliance delivers everything I could want from a Hulu comedy-thriller unceremoniously released in January. The infinitely watchable Jake Johnson being as affable as ever? Check. The incredibly charming Anna Kendrick being as adorable as ever? Double check. A steady stream of randomly absurd side characters and non sequiturs? Triple check. Hell, even the score is great, carrying a surprising amount of tension amongst all the levity. Plus, the message advocating for living life to the fullest should be relatable to all. It’s early, but this likely will be one of my Top Hidden Gems for 2024.
A comedy about a down-on-his-luck loser being hunted for sport sounds like a solid pitch, but Self Reliance doesn’t go far enough with its own wacky premise. I was hoping for an unhinged action-comedy, but what I got was a mildly amusing, faux-psychological character-study with some annoyingly vague takes on mental health. I was excited to see how Jake Johnson would handle himself as a writer/director, but he played it disappointingly safe. The jokes aren't very funny, and the ending is absolutely spineless. Thankfully, Johnson's still a pretty likable lead, so at least Self Reliance has that going for it.
Unfortunately, the fascinating premise of Self Reliance is never fully realized or thrilling. Sure, it features endearing performances, an admirable directorial debut from Jake Johnson, and some humor, but I was hoping for more of a payoff from this concept. The film is most effective when it focuses on Jake Johnson and Anna Kendrick’s chemistry, and it is least effective when it attempts to convey its overarching themes of living life to the fullest. That said, even though the film ends abruptly and leaves a feeling of unfulfilled expectations, it's still an enjoyable ride.